Pumpkin spice air freshener prompts school evacuation, fire officials say

Credit: WBAL

BALTIMORE (WBAL) — Officials evacuated a Baltimore school Thursday afternoon after hazardous materials crews were called for a strange odor.

Fire and hazmat crews were called around 2:30 p.m. to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The school was evacuated and Eastern Avenue was closed near Chester Street, SkyTeam 11 reported.

Officials said two students and three adults were taken to hospitals with unknown injuries. One of the adults suffered an issue not related to the incident.

Officials said dozens of students were triaged at the scene.

It turns out, the source of the irritant was a pumpkin spice air freshener, fire officials told 11 News.

“The primary readings we took within the school, we came up with negative readings. We took a secondary reading, which was also negative throughout the school,” Baltimore Fire Chief Roman Clark said.

As crews started opening windows and placing heavy fans inside the school, one of the firefighters discovered the air freshener.

“This plug-in air freshener that basically puts out the odor every so many seconds, and it’s a pumpkin spice, and that’s exactly what, if you go in there, you can smell, so it has been identified. It is not hazardous at all,” Clark said.

School President Bill Heiser told 11 News that students noticed the odor and some started coughing and having trouble breathing.

“At first, they thought, perhaps, it was a burned-out light bulb, and that was the cause of the smell,” Heiser said.

Heiser said he’s not convinced that an air freshener is to blame.

“What they did is also, as a precaution, they used fans to kind of circulate the air, and when they circulated the air, they did smell an air freshener. We don’t know that that’s the cause. It certainly wouldn’t be uncommon to blow an air freshener and then get that smell,” Heiser said.

One thing the men agree on is that evacuating the school was the right decision.

“I think the best thing to do, if there’s any concern and you have a school of 350 students and you have 50 teachers and staff, is to be safe,” Heiser said.

“It’s always best to take precaution, call 911, let us — we are the experts — come in and make sure that everything is safe, so we have no problem with them making this call. I know it’s a lot of equipment that you see around here, a lot of firefighters that are working on this incident; however, we want to make sure that these students and teachers are all safe,” Clark said.

The school posted a statement on its website, saying:

At approximately 2:30 p.m. today, students on the third floor of Healy Hall reported a strange odor. Principal Reap activated the School Emergency Plan and students and staff were safely evacuated. Once outside, students were provided access to restrooms and water. Emergency personnel, including the HAZMAT team of the Baltimore City Fire Department, quickly arrived to assess the safety of our students and the building. Emergency medical technicians evaluated several staff members and students, some of whom were treated on the scene. Five members of our community were transported to area hospitals as a precautionary measure. After extensive testing, the BCFD determined that the building was safe.”

Classes will resume tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. Sophomores who are working downtown may wish to come directly to school if they need to pick up items that were left behind. Our CIP Team will provide transportation for those students. Mrs. Sylvia Doud, our School Counselor, will be available to meet with any students that may need to talk about today’s events. I would like to thank our faculty and students for their patience and leadership. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Principal Reap.”

Some crews had started clearing the scene around 3:30 p.m.